Music

Girls, Girls, Girls, Etc.: Elvis Costello - "Lipstick Vogue"

"Lipstick Vogue" builds off themes established previously on This Year's Model, but here the Attractions are simply unrestrained.


Elvis Costello and the Attractions

This Year's Model

Label: Radar
US Release Date: 1978-05
UK Release Date: 1978-03-17
Amazon
iTunes

"Lipstick Vogue" builds off themes established previously on This Year's Model in songs like "The Beat" and "Hand In Hand" (and bits and pieces of all the rest): dissolving relationships, sexual guilt and insecurity, and romantic possessiveness. But here, the Attractions are simply unrestrained: like in "No Action", things sound like they could fall apart at any second. And during the bridge, they sort of do.

The song begins with a drum fill, but compared to the intro in "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" this one is imprecise (you can almost picture Pete Thomas flailing about behind his kit -- think Animal from the Muppets). Steve Nieve leads in with a keyboard line, and then the rest of the band enters as Pete Thomas settles into a stable beat. Bruce Thomas is again in fine form, keeping the song melodically interesting even in the absence of a vocal line (sometimes Bruce's basslines are as catchy, after all).

Costello is presumably addressing a girl whose affection is suspect: "Don't say you love me when it's just a rumor / Don't say a word if there is any doubt". Costello compares their stagnant relationship to a tumor, and suggests they should "cut it out", in the first of two chilling self-mutilation analogies in the song. "You say you're sorry for the things that you've done / You say you're sorry but you know you don't mean it / I wouldn't worry I had so much fun / Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being" -- in this second part of the verse, the narrator acknowledges the relationship's sexual perks, sardonically adding that they "almost made him feel human" in spite of his neuroses. Costello sounds breathless when he sings here, and it compliments the song's rushed aesthetic.

The rhythm guitar is more prominent in the mix than it is on most of the album. For the majority of the verse, Elvis aggressively "scrubs" on one chord, although his playing is more subdued during the choruses. Steve Nieve plays a single-note piano melody during the brief transition to the song's relative major key during the chorus that's reminiscent of Abba, either intentionally or on accident (a neat foreshadowing of the band's all-out "Dancing Queen" emulation on Armed Forces' "Oliver's Army"). On "it's you" in the chorus, Costello makes a sloppy, pitchy attempt at vibrato, a technique he wouldn't master until Trust, at least.

The Attractions "take things down a notch" for the second verse: there's no guitar, just bass and drums, and a quiet sustained organ chord by Steve Nieve. After the last line of the second verse -- the cryptic and genuinely frightening "You say I've got no feelings / Well this is a good way to kill them" -- the band degenerates into the jammiest moment on the record (which they would occasionally extend during live performances). Every instrument grows more and more pronounced and right when you think the band has reached their breaking point, everyone stops playing abruptly except for Pete Thomas (with additional piano sprinkles courtesy of Steve Nieve), who plays a variation of the opening drum pattern. Then Costello enters -- this is the final verse? The entire band enters again at a reprise of the song's standout line ("Sometimes I almost feel . . . just like a human being!"). During this final chorus, Elvis sings an unconventional low harmony on the word "you" that is practically imperceptible at a low volume. During the coda, Elvis participates in a playful, 2 Tone-esque call-and-response with the Attractions. The song ends on an unresolved chord, and Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve both provide instrumental speckles over another one of Nieve's sustained, eerie organ chords.

Live renditions appears on both Live at Hollywood High and Live at the El Mocambo, and plenty of footage of the song being performed live around this period of Elvis' career exists. Costello had good reason to feel confident about it -- it's another one of those cuts that's representative of the Attractions (I mean, could you imagine this song appearing on My Aim Is True? I thought not).


Previous Entries

*Introduction / "No Action"

*"This Year's Girl"

*"The Beat"

*"Pump It Up"

*"Little Triggers"

*"You Belong to Me"

*"Hand in Hand"

*"(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea"

*"Lip Service"

*"Living in Paradise"

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image